Shetlanders turned out in their hundreds to march through its capital town of Lerwick in protest at the local council’s plans for massive cuts in the islands education budget. As a result of the crisis, budgets around the world have been slashed and attacks on rural communities have been intensified.
Shetlanders turned out in their hundreds to march through its capital town of Lerwick in protest at the local council’s plans for massive cuts in the islands education budget. The cuts planned would include removing S3 and S4 from Shetland’s five junior high schools and completely closing four rural primaries.
For many Highlanders and Islanders, the attacks on budgets and threats of closures are not new, and many are used to well-funded services in rural communities being the lowest priority for national governments. However, with the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, budgets around the world have been slashed and attacks on rural communities have been intensified.
The march was organised by Communities United for Rural Education who have been opposing attacks on education in the Shetlands for 15 years. More than 600 people turned up, making it the largest turnout the community has seen in the campaign to save its schools.
The march took place on June 7th, two days before Shetland Islands Council (SIC) debated the future of Sandwick junior high school. People travelled in from the islands of Yell, Unst and Whalsay as well as the mainland. Drummers led a defiant throng of people, young and old, carrying banners and wearing costumes promoting their schools and towns. They gathered at Lerwick’s central Market Cross and marched its main street and esplanade before returning to the Market Cross.
Several people said the council was removing any choice about where secondary pupils could be educated, making the point that a lack of basic educational provision breached their children’s human rights.
On Monday the 9th the SIC’s families and education committee debated whether to end third and fourth year education at Sandwick junior high school. Threats were made that there would be a complete closure of junior high schools unless they accept the cuts planned, which would only retain S1 to S3 lessons at all the isles’ junior high schools after a public consultation.
A statutory consultation about the future of Sandwick showed 78 per cent of the 316 people who responded had been in favour of retaining the S1 to S4 model. However, the council is looking at further budget cuts. The isles cater for around 1,500 pupils in their secondary years. Already the SIC has cut 21% of staff on the islands – around 600 people – and are on target to cut £3 million out of its budget. More cuts are planned.
The recent protest highlights the scale of resistance against the increasingly brutal cuts in rural areas where basic necessities are being withdrawn. Access to decent education, health, transport, communication utilities, etc. have always been more difficult in the rural parts of Scotland, but recently the challenge has been multiplied by the global economic crisis, national budget cutbacks and the resulting lack of basic funding for rural areas.
All over the world, the capitalist system is failing to meet (let alone advance) the basic needs of ordinary people. It seems that people everywhere are getting poorer and important public services are being shut down, and yet, there is money for bailouts and bonuses, the stock markets have never been so high, and the super-rich are richer than they have ever been. There is plenty of money it seems, just none for spending on what ordinary people need.
Meanwhile, rural communities are feeling the pressure, as nobody comes to their aid: not the SIC, the SNP or the Westminster coalition. Apparently all are powerless to halt the reduction in living standards destined for us; they do not accept responsibility for the cuts, yet they don’t help lead anykind of fightback.
No government in Edinburgh, London or Lerwick is willing to protect its people from the chaos of Ccapitalism in crisis – this is the reality. Workers of both urban and rural situations must rely on themselves and link together their struggles into a general and national movement against cuts. We must put a set of socialist demands at the front of such a movement in order to cut out the vampiric interests of the super-rich, and put services and necessity before profit.